St. Maarten Prison takes family visit away to punish striking inmates

POSTED: 05/27/11 1:59 PM

Duncan’s legal advisor writes inmates: “He who loses his freedom, loses immediately all other rights”

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – Inmates at the Pointe Blanche prison are feeling the pressure from the prison management after they organized a peaceful strike on May 13. Yesterday, the Inmate Association’s attorney, mr. Shaira Bommel, reported that prison director Rudsel Ricardo had punished the inmates for their strike by cancelling the monthly family visit.
“The director refuses to put this on paper and he has informed the inmates verbally,” Bommel stated. The attorney wrote a letter to Ricardo yesterday pointing out that this punishment is not acceptable.
The inmates are frustrated because Justice Minister Roland Duncan promised them a letter in which he would address their concerns about the conditions in the prison. But when Chief Prosecutor Mr. Hans Mos visited the prison on May 6 to discuss the situation with the Inmates Association, he learned that they had already been waiting in vain for seven weeks for this letter.
To add insult to injury, a remark made by Ann Gumbs, a legal advisor to Minister Duncan, in a letter to the Inmates Association dated May 5, contained the following quote: “He, who loses his freedom, loses immediately all other rights that is inseparable with them.”
Gumbs took the quote from the book Prisoners and Human rights. It was the first thought that came to her, after examining a list of seventeen complaints the inmates had brought to the attention of Irene Simmons, the chief of the cabinet of Justice, who visited the prison on March 30.
Gumbs wrote that the Justice Ministry “endorses all human rights of a detainee as far as the budget, means and possibilities go and within reason.”
Part of the long list of complaints is the evaluation of inmates for conditional release and electronic supervision. According to Gumbs, the Rehabilitation Bureau SJIB, can write a report “without seeing an inmate based on the file and the requested conditional release or electronic supervision.”
The legal advisor also pointed out that inmates are not allowed to have cell phones in the prison. “If a prisoner is caught with a cell phone in his or her possession, his or her conditional release will be taken away,” Gumbs wrote.
Shortly after Gumbs sent her letter, Chief Prosecutor Mr. Hans Mos visited the Inmates Association on May 6, after prison director Ricardo had informed him that the inmates planned to go on strike on May 13.
In a letter to Minister Duncan dated May 11, Mos pointed out that more than half of the problems inmates want addressed are linked to the need to renovate the prison.
Inmates are frustrated about the fact that court rulings the prison administration uses to calculate the precise end date and the date for conditional release are often slow in reaching the inmates. Based on these dates, inmates are able to make requests for conditional release or for electronic supervision. Not having those dates available in a timely manner is “a big frustration,” Mos wrote to Duncan.
Most complaints have to do with “the unhygienic situation, leaking cells, open toilets and bad shower facilities,” Mos wrote.
He told the inmates about Duncan’s plans to deal with the shortage of cells. “I have indicated the possibility that the detention center in Simpson Bay will open soon and that you are busy with serious preparations to use the Box (Samir Andrawos’ building in Cay Hill – ed.).”
Mos told the inmates that the building will be turned into a decent facility and that this will create extra space but also options to establish different regimes within the prison system. “That perspective was received with appreciation.”
The Chief Prosecutor made a “cautious prediction” that it ought to be possible to start with the prison’s renovation on the first of August. “I added that this is St. Maarten and that nothing is certain, but there was no need to tell them that. They were already aware of this fact.”
Mos stated in the letter that preparations for the renovation were already underway when he arrived in St. Maarten in 2009. “Initially the plans were not executed because there was no money, but this time the main reason is that there is no place elsewhere for the 30 inmates that have to be relocated for the duration of the renovation.”
Mos wrote that the inmates find it unfair that suspects in pretrial detention “are now sent home after 26 days in a police cell.” The inmates indicated, Mos wrote, that it was more logical “to send a prisoner home that had almost served his sentence, displayed proper behavior and is ready with re-socialization, than sending home a prisoner who is at the beginning of his detention.”
Mos added that this point of view corresponds with ideas he himself had proposed to the Minister to deal with the cell capacity situation, but that such a solution is not possible for inmates that are serving time for violent crimes.
The Chief Prosecutor wrote that the inmates see the conditions in Pointe Blanche deteriorate. They expect from you that you – finally – take visible action to turn that downward spiral into an upward one. That action from your side could be that you make sure the renovations in Pointe Blanche start this summer. That will be possible if the thirty places that are needed can be found in the station in Simpson Bay and in the new police cells.”

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